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Cablegate: Das Marciel Raises Land Issues, Elections with Sar

VZCZCXRO8359
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0097/01 0230119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 230119Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000097

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR P, EAP/MLS, DRL, S/WCI, G/TIP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KWMN CB
SUBJECT: DAS MARCIEL RAISES LAND ISSUES, ELECTIONS WITH SAR
KHENG


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Deputy Assistant Secretary For East Asian
And Pacific Affairs Scot Marciel met with Deputy Prime
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng January 17 to discuss
preparations for Cambodia's 2008 National elections and the
issue of forced land evictions. Sar Kheng raised security
issues related to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT). Sar Kheng
was well-briefed on U.S.-Cambodia bilateral issues discussed
earlier in the day at a bilateral dialogue meeting (septel).
The Ambassador and DCM were also in attendance. END SUMMARY.

KRT ARREST SUCCESS STORIES
--------------------------

2. (SBU) Sar Kheng opened the discussion by emphasizing the
symbolic importance of the KRT in responding to the wishes of
the people of Cambodia and the international community, and
in providing justice to the victims. He described the
difficult logistics put in place to defuse any potentially
violent reaction to the arrests of Nuon Chea and Khieu
Samphan, who still claim popular support in the Pailin area
where they resided. Sar Kheng said that only with the
cooperation of Pailin municipal authorities were the arrests
conducted successfully. He also described the great lengths
to which the RGC went in order to stabilize Khieu Samphan's
medical condition and stated his death would have been a "big
loss" to the KRT. Sar Kheng expressed a desire for the KRT
court to take these security issues into account when
considering expanding the scope of arrests. DAS Marciel
responded that the KRT helped create a positive impression in
the international community and that the U.S. supported the
U.N. in efforts to strengthen court management in the KRT and
address administrative issues. DAS Marciel summarized the
positive growth in the bilateral relationship and stated the
U.S. desire to support efforts to resolve issues and continue
to find areas where the U.S. could be helpful.

IMPROVEMENTS IN ELECTION ENVIRONMENT?
-------------------------------------

3. (SBU) DAS Marciel asked Sar Kheng to explain specific
plans for security for the 2008 national elections. Sar
Kheng explained that the RGC wanted to ensure equal
opportunity for political parties to conduct campaigns,
ensure the safety and security for the election itself, and
create an environment where people feel free to vote. Sar
Kheng stated the RGC welcomed national and international
election observers. Sar Kheng committed to working with the
National Election Committee to ensure political parties'
ability to campaign. He noted that in a country of 14
million people there were 45 registered political parties.
(NOTE: The final number who register to participate in the
actual election will likely be smaller. END NOTE.) He
believed that the preparations for the 2008 elections were
"far better" than in 2003 when there were still outstanding
political issues and security concerns. Sar Kheng expressed
his belief that democracy could be accepted by all Cambodians
and that no other regime, communist or authoritarian, could
interrupt its progress. Sar Kheng highlighted the success of
the local commune elections in 2002 and 2007 and the MOI's
plans to help with development of democratic governance at
the local levels. He stated the draft sublevel law required
amendment to the Cambodian Constitution. He expected the law
to be enacted in 2009. DAS Marciel congratulated the RGC on
the successful commune elections and concluded that peaceful
national elections would be good not only for Cambodia but
for the region.

FORCED LAND EVICTIONS SCRUTINY
------------------------------

4. (SBU) Raising the topic of human rights, DAS Marciel told
Sar Kheng that one issue receiving considerable attention in
Washington was forced land evictions. He asked Sar Kheng how
serious the problem was and what could be done further. Sar
Kheng acknowledged there were cases of forced evictions, then
took the opportunity to highlight the RGC efforts to resolve
several specific disputes. He noted the direct intervention
of the RGC in the settlement area near the Council of
Ministers to assist the people after which the development
company reach an agreement on building residences for the
evicted.

5. (SBU) Sar Kheng stated that in the Boeng Kak lake case,
the municipality of Phnom Penh had planned to evict the
residents 2 weeks ago but that the RGC asked for further
studies to determine who would actually be landless at the
location or who may be squatting there but with a residence
elsewhere. He stated that Prime Minister Hun Sen supported
this initiative. Sar Kheng also discussed two settlement

PHNOM PENH 00000097 002.3 OF 002


cases in Battambang in the lake five area where 400 families
from various provinces were living on public land. He stated
the families were living in "disorganized communities" and he
had sought approval to turn these communities into villages
with proper administrative management and infrastructure such
as roads and schools. He also sought to delay the closure of
the voter registration for these communities by several days
acknowledging "they are in disarray, but they are Cambodian
and the government can't deny they exist." Sar Kheng stated
the goal was to provide land concessions for private
ownership to the families and organize them into one or two
villages of 200 families each. He extended an invitation to
the Ambassador to attend an inauguration ceremony for the
villages at a future date.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: Sar Kheng was well-briefed on Marciel's
bilateral dialogue and moved quickly into substance. His
remarks on the government's internal deliberations about how
to manage potential unrest in Pailin were enlightening -- and
possibly influenced by the fact that a group from the
tribunal had been in Pailin seeking to address concerns
earlier in the week. Although Sar Kheng illustrated
knowledge of specific land issues and empathy with the
evicted, he took the same "solving these problems
one-at-a-time approach" we've seen from other senior leaders,
who seem not to recognize that lack of transparency and
systemic weaknesses are underlined when a Deputy Prime
Minister must intervene to resolve specific cases. END
COMMENT.

7. (U) DAS Marciel did not have the opportunity to clear
this cable.

MUSSOMELI

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